Develop Your Situational Awareness Using The Cooper Color Code

Man looking at street in Jerusalem

What Is The Cooper Color Code?

In Krav Maga you need situational awareness to stay safe and make good decisions…

…and the Cooper Color Code is the simplest and most effective system for doing just that.

It’s great for helping you identify and respond to different threat levels. By understanding and practicing the Cooper Color Code, you can learn to identify potential risks and take appropriate action to protect yourself and those around you.

This is the first part of the Cooper Color Code series. Here, we’ll discuss the different levels of the color code and how you can use it to improve your situational awareness.

Illustration of the cooper colour code
Develop Your Situational Awareness Using The Cooper Color Code 2

Overview Of The Cooper Colour Code

“If violent crime is to be curbed, it is only the intended victim who can do it. The felon does not fear the police, and he fears neither judge nor jury. Therefore what he must be taught to fear is his victim”

Jeff Cooper

I want to start off by saying that you don’t have good situational awareness or bad situational awareness. I believe that your situational awareness is either trained or untrained.

The tool that I use to teach situational awareness to my students is called the Cooper Colour Code.

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper stated that the most important tool you can have to help you survive an attack isn’t a weapon or your martial arts skills, but what he called your combat mindset.

To help develop this mindset, in the 1970’s he introduced the Colour Code which describes the different psychological conditions, or states of mind, that a person has in any given situation.

The Cooper Colour Code is made up of 4 awareness levels, each represented by a different colour.

  1. Condition White is the first condition and is best described as generally being unaware of what’s going on around you. Basically you’re not paying attention.
  2. Condition Yellow, the second condition, you now sense that there could be potential danger around. You begin to actively scan your environment to try and identify any potential threats.
  3. Condition Orange is the third condition and during this level of awareness you have locked on to a potential threat. You are now formulating an action plan to put in place if needed.
  4. Condition Red is the last level. When your awareness level has elevated to red you are now actively engaged with the threat. You are also executing the plans you formulated in Condition Orange.

There’s also another condition level that has since been adopted by the Marines that was not part of the original Colour Code. Condition Black.

Condition Black is used to describe someone who has become immobilised by panic or overwhelmed by fear.

Before I go into the specifics of the Colours and how to use them, we need to define two concepts that we’re going to be using.

The first concept is physiological response. This refers to what’s happening to your body as a threat presents itself.

Essentially it’s the activation of the fight or flight response, also known as the acute stress response.

The acute stress response is activated by the sudden release of hormones into the body in preparation to fight for our lives or to run away.

This response is characterised by physical changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.

The second concept that we need to be aware of is what’s called our psychological response.

This is what happens to us mentally. As the stress of the situation we are in climbs different things happen to us mentally.

Now, let’s look at each of the conditions individually.

Condition White

“The difference between being a victim and a survivor is often a low level of situational awareness.”

Barry Eisler

When you’re in condition white you’re in a state where you’re unprepared and not ready, physically or mentally, for an event.

That event could be an attack from an assailant or it could be getting run into by a guy on a bike.

The point is that you’re unprepared. If you live in Condition White while your out and about in public then you’re more likely to become a victim.

Bad guys generally choose people who are not paying attention. This makes it easier for them to victimise you because you’re less likely to react and they’re more likely to get away with it.

When you’re in condition white you have low psychological awareness, meaning that you’re not focused on what’s going on around you.

You also will have low physiological arousal levels, which means that your fight or flight response hasn’t been activated. You’re petty relaxed.

Now, we need to spend time in condition white. Having a constantly elevated alertness level is taxing on us mentally and can lead to mental fatigue.

So when do we go into condition white?

Generally when you’re at home. Anywhere else and you should be in the next condition.

Condition Yellow

“I think it’s always important to be vigilant of what you’re doing and aware of your surroundings.”

Leona Lewis

Condition yellow is simply being in a state of awareness of what’s around us. We need to be actively searching and scanning the environment for possible threats.

We should be in condition yellow whenever we’re out, at work, at school, or at church, etc.

So what am I looking for when I’m scanning…

Basically anything that can become a potential threat. Things like people acting aggressively or suspiciously, speeding cars, off leash dogs, etc.

When you’re in condition yellow you will have a moderate psychological awareness level and moderate physiological arousal level.

Condition Orange

“Your mind-set is your primary weapon.” 

 Jeff Cooper

Once you have identified or locked onto a potential threat you have now moved into condition orange.

For example imagine that you’re out for a nice walk.

Whenever you go out, you should automatically be in condition yellow.

In condition yellow you’ll be casually scanning your environment. You’re looking for things that are out of the ordinary, making sure to take note of anything that could become a potential threat.

Ahead you see a dog that’s off leash and running in your direction. At this point you should move yourself into condition orange.

You have identified and locked in on the threat. Now to do the important work that characterises this condition.

You formulate a safety plan.

When confronted with a threat you essentially have one of three choices to make.

Run. Hide. Fight.

This is the time to make the decision and the plan on how to execute it. You don’t want to be doing that once the attack is under way.

You may decide that if the dog gets to a certain point in front of you, you’ll run away, or maybe you identified some shelter that you can safely hide in, or maybe you mentally prepare to fight the canine.

It doesn’t matter what the decision is, as long as one has been made.

When you’re in condition orange understand your heart rate will become slightly elevated as you’ll be in a higher state of physiological arousal.

But more important to realise is that because you’re focused on the dog, you won’t be focused on other things. You’ll have a lower state of psychological awareness than you did than when you were in condition yellow.

Condition Red

“The only acceptable response to the threat of lethal violence is immediate and savage counterattack. If you resist, you just may get killed. If you don’t resist you almost certainly will get killed. It is a tough choice, but there is only one right answer.” 

Jeff Cooper

My hope is that you never have to go into condition red. That your situational awareness and instincts are developed enough that you avoided the danger long before it ever had a chance to become a threat to you.

Going into red means that you’re now in the fight. You’re at the point where you have no choice but to execute one of the plans you made back in condition orange.

You have a very high degree of physiological arousal as hormones race through your body.

Your awareness level sink even lower as you become solely focused on the threat. You no longer know what’s going on around you.

You’re now fighting for your life.

Hopefully, everything goes according to plan and you get out of there safely. It will take a good while for the adrenaline to leave your system and you may become jittery. But at least your safe.

As you can see, the Cooper Colour Code can be a useful tool to keep yourself safe. At the very least remember to be in Condition Yellow every time you leave the house and decide what you will do in different situations before they happen.

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